Orchids Galore!

On a recent visit to the Steel City, I visited the renowned Phipps Conservatory. Gifted to the City of Pittsburgh in 1893 by Henry Phipps, the botanical garden is a showcase for stunning orchid and bonsai collections. Born to British immigrants in 1839, Phipps earned a fortune as a partner with childhood friend Andrew Carnegie in the Carnegie Steel Corporation. Phipps was a pioneering philanthropist, believing that those who have achieved great wealth should give back for the public good. In addition to his gift of the Phipps Conservatory for the people of Pittsburgh, he funded the Phipps Institute for the Study, Treatment and Prevention of Tuberculosis at the University of Pennsylvania and The Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the first inpatient facility in the United States for the mentally ill constructed as part of an acute care hospital. If you are an orchid enthusiast as I am (albeit a frustrated orchid grower), you’ll enjoy these photos.

“Globe in hand, Grace slowly approached the big orchid, white and fragile and absolutely gorgeous. She very carefully slid the globe over it, and as she was doing so, she put her face into the center of the open flower, smiling as the breathtaking fragrance washed over her–luscious and nectared, candied apricots, airy notes of strange spice.”
― Jeffrey Stepakoff, The Orchard


This stone altar persists in the 8th-12th c. Church at Kildavnit (County Clare), roofless but still a place of prayer and remembrance. In this week when we marked St. Patrick’s Day, I remember my Irish ancestors, the Beattys, Dohertys, Ferrigans, McCaffreys, Shannons, Carlins, Boyles, and Murrays.
Go raibh míle maith agat! 
(That you may have a thousand good things!)

“The Famine Year (The Stricken Land)” by Jane Wilde

“Weary men, what reap ye? – Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? – human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, hunger–stricken, what see you in the offing?
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.
There’s a proud array of soldiers – what do they round your door?
They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping -would to God that we were dead;
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.

Little children, tears are strange upon your infant faces,
God meant you but to smile within your mother’s soft embraces.
Oh! we know not what is smiling, and we know not what is dying;
We’re hungry, very hungry, and we cannot stop our crying.
And some of us grow cold and white – we know not what it means;
But, as they lie beside us, we tremble in our dreams.
There’s a gaunt crowd on the highway – are ye come to pray to man,
With hollow eyes that cannot weep, and for words your faces wan?

No; the blood is dead within our veins – we care not now for life;
Let us die hid in the ditches, far from children and from wife;
We cannot stay and listen to their raving, famished cries –
Bread! Bread! Bread! and none to still their agonies.
We left our infants playing with their dead mother’s hand:
We left our maidens maddened by the fever’s scorching brand:
Better, maiden, thou were strangled in thy own dark–twisted tresses –
Better, infant, thou wert smothered in thy mother’s first caresses.

We are fainting in our misery, but God will hear our groan:
Yet, if fellow – men desert us, will He hearken from His Throne?
Accursed are we in our own land, yet toil we still and toil;
But the stranger reaps our harvest – the alien owns our soil.
O Christ! how have we sinned, that on our native plains
We perish houseless, naked, starved, with branded brow, like Cain’s?
Dying, dying wearily, with a torture sure and slow –
Dying, as a dog would die, by the wayside as we go.

One by one they’re falling round us, their pale faces to the sky;
We’ve no strength left to dig them graves – there let them lie.
The wild bird, if he’s stricken, is mourned by the others,
But we – we die in a Christian land – we die amid our brothers,
In the land which God has given, like a wild beast in his cave,
Without a tear, a prayer, a shroud, a coffin or a grave.
Ha! but think ye the contortions on each livid face ye see,
Will not be read on judgement – day by eyes of Deity?

We are wretches, famished, scorned, human tools to build your pride,
But God will take vengeance for the souls for whom Christ died.
Now is your hour of pleasure – bask ye in the world’s caresses;
But our whitening bones against ye will rise as witnesses,
From the cabins and the ditches, in their charred, uncoffin’d masses,
For the Angel of the Trumpet will know them as he passes.
A ghastly, spectral army, before the great God we’ll stand,
And arraign ye as our murderers, the spoilers of our land.”

Lady Jane Wilde (1821-1896) was an Irish poet, nationalist, and collector of folktales. She wrote under the penname of Esperanza. Her father died when she was three years old. Although largely self-educated, she is said to have mastered ten languages by the age of eighteen. When her husband died suddenly, she was left indigent. She lived with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books on Irish folklore. Her youngest son Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was the most popular British playwright of the 1890s but ran afoul of the morality of his day. In January 1896 as Lady Jane was dying, she appealed to visit Oscar at Reading Gaol, but her request was denied. Her “fetch” appeared in Oscar’s prison cell as she died at her home in Chelsea.

“He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.” — Luke 1:53

View from Masada

The mountaintop fortress of Masada was built by Herod the Great as a winter retreat and refuge, complete with palace, storerooms, cisterns, and impressive fortifications. In the Jewish Revolt against the Roman occupation, Masada was taken by Sicarii rebels in 66CE. When the Romans retook Jerusalem (70CE), pockets of Jewish resistance persisted. The last of these was at Masada. Flavius Silva and a legion of Roman soldiers encamped at the base of the mountain and laid siege. Unable to take the fortress, Silva instructed his men to build an enormous tower and ramp to reach the walls. When the building project neared completion and the fall of Masada was imminent, the rebels killed themselves (April 15, 73CE). Two women and five children, who hid in an empty cistern, survived to tell the story. This photo looks out from the walls of Masada to the plain below. Can you see the remains of the Roman Encampment from the first century siege?

Masada by Isaac Lamdan
“Who are you that come, stepping heavy in silence?
–The remnant.
Alone I remained on the day of great slaughter.
Alone, of father and mother, sisters and brothers.
Saved in an empty cask hid in a courtyard corner.
Huddled, a child in the womb of an anxious mother.
I survived.
Days upon days in fate’s embrace I cried and begged
for mercy:
Thy deed it is, O God, that I remain.
Then answer: Why?
If to bear the shame of man and the world.
To blazon it forever–
Release me! The world unshamed will flaunt this shame
As honor and spotless virtue!
And if to find atonement I survive
Then Answer: Where?
So importuning a silent voice replied:
‘In Masada!’
And I obeyed that voice and so I came.
Silent my steps will raise me to the wall,
Silent as all the steps filled with the dread
Of what will come.
Tall, tall is the wall of Masada.
Deep, deep is the pit at its feet.
And if the silent voice deceived me,
From the high wall to the deep pit
I will fling me.
And let there be no sign remaining,
And let no remnant survive.”

in Isaac Lamdan: A Study in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Poetry, ed. Leon I. Yudkin, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.

Yitzhak Lamdan was born in Mlinov, Ukraine in 1899 and received a religious and secular education. During World War I, he was cut off from his family. He wandered through southern Russia with his brother who was later killed in a pogrom. Lamdan became a Communist and volunteered for the Red Army before returning, disillusioned, to Mlinov , where he began to publish Hebrew poetry. He immigrated to Palestine in 1920, and worked as a ḥaluts (Zionist youth), building roads and working on farms. In 1955, Lamdan was awarded the Israel Prize, for literature.

Caesarea Maritima

On this snowy North Country Friday, I thought you might enjoy a little Mediterranean sunshine. This is the view from the site of Pilate’s compound at Caesarea Maritima. It’s within eyeshot of the Hippodrome where troops drilled, around the corner from the amphitheater, and featured saltwater and freshwater pools for exercise and relaxation.

Caesarea Maritima National Park, Israel

Spring Beauties

Friday Photos

Here are some Adirondack spring beauties for all you folks who are tired of shoveling snow. These photos were taken on Lyon Mountain in May.

“I will be like the dew to the people of Israel. They will blossom like flowers. They will be firmly rooted like cedars from Lebanon. They will be like growing branches. They will be beautiful like olive trees. They will be fragrant like cedars from Lebanon.” — Hosea 14:5-6

Remember Your Baptism

Qasr el Yahud, West Bank Territory, 2017

On the second Sunday in January, Christians remember Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. I’ve visited two baptismal sites in the Holy Land. Yardenit in the north, near the Sea of Galilee, has plentiful, clear water that invites the pilgrim to jump in for a rite of baptismal remembrance. Qasr el Yahud in the south, near the Dead Sea, isn’t nearly so inviting. By the time the Jordan reaches Qasr el Yahud, the river has been hard at work, irrigating fields and orchards. I’m told that, until a few years ago, raw sewage was sometimes pumped into the river, making your remembrance unsafe. Nowadays, the river is relatively clean, albeit muddy. The vegetation along the banks is thick and resounds with the twitter of birds. This photo was taken at the end of April on the Israeli side. It was a blisteringly hot morning. Three new Christians were preparing for baptism. Across the river, Jordanian worshipers also gathered for baptismal remembrance. Soldiers in uniform, on both sides of the Jordan, kept watch with rifles at the ready.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”–Luke 3:21-22

All Things Flow to the Sea

Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland — 2019

“Achill” by Derek Mahon

im chaonaí uaigneach nach mór go bhfeicim an lá

I lie and imagine a first light gleam in the bay
After one more night of erosion and nearer the grave,
Then stand and gaze from the window at break of day
As a shearwater skims the ridge of an incoming wave;
And I think of my son a dolphin in the Aegean,
A sprite among sails knife-bright in a seasonal wind,
And wish he were here where currachs walk on the ocean
To ease with his talk the solitude locked in my mind.

I sit on a stone after lunch and consider the glow
Of the sun through mist, a pearl bulb containèdly fierce;
A rain-shower darkens the schist for a minute or so
Then it drifts away and the sloe-black patches disperse.
Croagh Patrick towers like Naxos over the water
And I think of my daughter at work on her difficult art
And wish she were with me now between thrush and plover,
Wild thyme and sea-thrift, to lift the weight from my heart.

The young sit smoking and laughing on the bridge at evening
Like birds on a telephone pole or notes on a score.
A tin whistle squeals in the parlour, once more it is raining,
Turf-smoke inclines and a wind whines under the door;
And I lie and imagine the lights going on in the harbor
Of white-housed Náousa, your clear definition at night,
And wish you were here to upstage my disconsolate labour
As I glance through a few thin pages and switch off the light.”

from Derek Mahon, Selected Poems, published by Viking Adult, 1991

Born in Belfast in 1941, Derek Mahon was one of the most highly respected poets of his generation. His 2008 book Life on Earth was awarded the “Poetry Now Award” by the Irish Times. Mahon was a master of capturing the Irish landscape and the gift of the moment. He died in 2020.

im chaonaí uaigneach nach mór go bhfeicim an lá translates from the Gaelic to English, “I am a lonely cry that must see the day.”